A colleague recently asked me about a particularly repetitive dream in which animals such as snakes and lions take turn playing the leading character.
Firstly, dream interpretation is allowed in Islam. I am by no stretch an interpreter of dreams, though I like to exploit the wonderful sources available on the mentioned topic. The authority on Islamic oneiromancy, the Interpretation of Dreams (Tafsiir al-aHlaam, تفسير الأحلام) credited to the great tabi’in Muhammad Ibn Sirin, does give an idea on the possible meanings of dreams. Although it must be noted that the book itself is actually written not by Ibn Sirin himself, but instead by his students, and apparently resembles a collection of what was relayed by Ibn Sirin.
Anyway, back to the dream. Looking at the available resources related to the topics of snakes and lions, not much data can be extracted. In short, basically entities which are regarded as hazards, such as the two wild animals above, mean probable danger of the dreamer. However reading on, it is not all that consistent and simply formulaic.
Firstly, different cultures regard different animals differently. For instance, the interpretation on lion says:
وربما دل على الموت والشدة، لأن الناظر إليه يصفر لونه ويضطرب جنانه ويغشى عليه
I.e. it could mean death and difficulty, because one who looks at the lion becomes cowardly and tremendously fearful. But what if the dreamer doesn’t feel scared of the lion in the dream? Or maybe a snake-lover who dreamt of snakes, whereas snakes are almost always defined as “the enemy”, understandably from the point-of-view of those living in sandy desert areas.
Secondly, the interpreter himself is key to the interpretation. Ibn Sirin was a man known for his tremendous piety, so he knew what he was talking about, and to whom. So just because a collection of his interpretations is available, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is there in black and white. Take the following example:
قد يرى اثنان نفس الرؤيا ويكون تفسيرها مختلفا باختلاف الحال، وقد ذكر عن ابن سيرين أنه جاءه رجل فقال له: رأيت أني أؤذن فقال له: ستحج إن شاء الله، وجاءه آخر فقال: رأيت أني أؤذن، فقال له: لعل في نيتك أن تسرق، فقيل له في ذلك، فقال: أما الأول فرأيت في وجهه نور الطاعة، فتذكرت قول الله تعالى: وَأَذِّنْ فِي النَّاسِ بِالْحَجِّ (الحج:27). وأما الآخر، فرأيت على وجهه سواد المعصية، فتذكرت قول الله تعالى: ثُمَّ أَذَّنَ مُؤَذِّنٌ أَيَّتُهَا الْعِيرُ إِنَّكُمْ لَسَارِقُونَ (يوسف:70) ـ
“Two may have seen the same vision and yet interpreted differently depending on the case. It was mentioned from Ibn Sirin that a man came and said to him: ‘I saw that I was performing the adhaan.’ So Ibn Sirin said to him: ‘You will perform the Hajj, Allah-willing.’ And another person came to him and said: ‘I saw that I was performing the adhaan.’ Ibn Sirin replied to him: ‘Perhaps you intend to steal.’ Ibn Sirin was then asked about this and said: “The first man, I saw on his face the nuur (light) of obedience; then I remembered the words of Allah: ‘And proclaim [وَأَذِّنْ] the Pilgrimage among men.’ (al-Hajj:27). The other man, I saw on his face the darkness of sin; then I remembered the words of Allah: ‘Then shouted out a crier [أَذَّنَ مُؤَذِّنٌ]: O ye (in) the caravan! behold! Ye are thieves, without doubt!’ [Yusuf: 70].
In short, it’s not for a topic for armchair experts. This is one for the clean heart and sound knowledge.